—for my grandmother, Margaret Kelly
"You don't need that," she'd tell us when we'd beg
Two cents for bubblegum or licorice.
A bricklayer's daughter, she'd grown up hard
As cement—never reached 100 pounds,
Lived on potatoes and tea, cut her own hair.
Husband gone, youngest child killed in the street,
She carried a ball peen hammer up her sleeve
On the daily walks she made us take all over town,
Crossing the river and the canal, circling the miles
Of Eastman Kodak's smokestacks, through the invisible
Hops-scented cloud of the Genesee Brewery,
Past the burned-out storefronts of the '67 riots,
Never stopping at the church where the brother
She wouldn't speak to, a Catholic priest,
Celebrated morning mass. We followed her
Through drain pipes and alleys. We crawled under a gap
She found in the fence beside the KEEP OUT sign
And up onto the tracks of the New York Central Line,
Startled when she unclasped (this once) her change purse
And gave us each three pennies to lay on the polished rail.
When the tank cars and ore jennies had passed,
We sifted through the ballast rock
She said was called "road metal," excited as prospectors
For the ruined and unspendable glints of warm copper
Lincoln's face flattened to a smudge
Our first lesson in what our city's daily freight
Can do to words like "God" and "Trust."
Issue 23 - April 2016